1950s — A Decade of Experimental Progress

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Many of the descriptions on this page are adapted with permission from the book
SHIPS THAT FLY… THE STORY OF THE MODERN HYDROFOIL by John R. Meyer, Jr. ©1990 by Hydrofoil Technology, Inc.

MASSAWIPPI The 45-foot hydrofoil craft also known as R-100 or KC-B, during 1953 trials. This was the first of four experimental hydrofoils that Canada’s DREA (Defense Research Establishment Atlantic) operated between 1950 and 1979.
Saunders- Roe, R-103
With encouragement from the United Kingdom along with successful trials of MASSAWIPPI (R-100), Canada decided to fund another test craft which was built in England by Saunders-Roe. This 17-ton craft, designated R-103, was initially named BRAS D’OR, and later renamed BADDECK. It had several design features of special note. Although the foil configuration was similar to that of the modified R-100, the foils and struts, instead of being solid, were built up of aluminium sheet riveted over aluminium ribs and stringers. The hull was also aluminium instead of wood as used in R-100. Of particular note is the use of a center strut which housed a right-angle bevel gear transmission driving propellers on each end of the propulsion pod. This represented a significant departure from the long inclined shaft used in R-100. Power was supplied by two I-cylinder Rolls Royce Griffon gasoline engines rated 1,500 HP at 3,000 RPM.The trials of R-103, which began in 1958, proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. There was, however, one particularly important result that strongly influenced hydrofoil design philosophy. It was concluded that the Bell-Baldwin airplane configuration was not the best approach to design of a surface-piercing hydrofoil for operation in rough seas. To the contrary, it was decided that the forward foil should be relatively insensitive to angle of attack and act as a trimming device allowing the main stern foil to respond in advance of an incoming wave. The forward foil should, therefore, be small relative to the main lifting surfaces. Thus, it was concluded that a canard arrangement was essential for good seakeeping with surface-piercing foils.

[Extracted from Twenty Foilborne Years by William Ellsworth]

LANTERN (HC-4) designed and built by the Hydrofoil Corporation, Annapolis MD, USA, this was one of the earliest hydrofoils to use electronic controls. LANTERN first flew in 1953, had tandem submerged foils, displaced about 10 tons, was 35 feet long with a beam of 22 feet. The control system was a straight adaptation of an aircraft automatic control system. The craft was unusual from another point of view: the foils, struts and hull were all the same shaped section, namely a symmetrical 24% thickness ratio NACA airfoil section. LANTERN was powered by a 200 hp Chrysler marine engine, had a takeoff speed of 14 knots, and a maximum speed in calm water of only 18 knots.
ICARUS Christopher Hook had studied naval architecture and aerodynamics in occupied France during WWII. He managed to escape, first to Lisbon and then to Kenya, where he carried out numerous hydrofoil experiments under the most austere conditions to build three craft, all of which attempted to solve the foil control problem with mechanically connected floats arranged to skim along the water surface in advance of the lifting foils. In 1945, Hook went to England, where he set up a research establishment at Cowes to further pursue hydrofoil model and full scale testing. In the early 1950s, Hook brought this small test craft with him to the USA. As with his previous designs, feelers were used ahead of the craft to sense the oncoming waves. These feelers, linked to the forward submerged foils, controlled their incidence and thereby, it was intended, stabilized the craft. Hydrofin, an earlier model
HALOBATES designed and completed in 1957 by the Miami Shipbuilding Corp. for the US Marine Corp, who wanted to increase the speed of approach for beach landings (such speeds had not improved appreciably since William the Conqueror headed for a beach in 1066). A program was initiated in 1954 to evaluate a hydrofoil-supported landing craft designated LCVP. The craft is shown here with “feeler” arms adapted from the Hook system. The name HALOBATES was suggested by the Marine Laboratory of the University of Miami, since halobates is a sea-going insect that has forward extending feelers. HALOBATES, a modified small landing craft, was 35.5 feet long with a beam of 11.7 feet and a full load displacement of 31,000 pounds. A 630 hp gasoline engine provided power for the craft, which demonstrated speeds up to 34 knots in 5-foot waves. The design was complicated by the use of many ball and screw actuators necessary to provide retraction of the foil and propulsion system for the landing craft. However, in spite of its relative success, this configuration led to the observation that if this is the way hydrofoils are to be built, the US Navy has no use for them! The feeler concept was certainly objectionable, and so, was abandoned.


HIGH POCKETS In 1951, the US Navy contracted with the Baker Manufacturing Co. of Evansville WI for two 24 ft. hydrofoils. These projects were directed by Gordon Baker, who has been described as a mechanical genius. The first of these craft, HIGH POCKETS had a surface-piercing foil configuration, i.e. four retractable “V”-foils that could be steered and rotated to allow banking into a turn. HIGH POCKETS was the first hydrofoil to embark the then Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Carney, in the summer of 1953; click here to read this interesting story.

HIGH TAIL The second Baker hydrofoil had a controllable, fully submerged foil system. The 3-foil system, one forward and two aft, had three mechanical sensors, one touching the water ahead of each foil. These sensors provided the input for controlling foil lift. Propulsion was via a propeller driven by an inboard marine engine through an angled shaft. The forward foil and struts were mounted on a vertical axis, which provided steering while flying. The foils, sensors, and propeller were all hydraulically retractable for operating in shallow water. The foils were quite small, so lift control was obtained by changing foil incidence relative to a fixed reference using a mechanical/hydraulic autopilot. Though the autopilot was workable, the conclusion was that future autopilots should be electro-hydraulic. Gordon Baker’s contributions during this experimental stage of hydrofoil development was significant and helpful for future design decisions.
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SEA LEGS Can be seen at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News VA, USA.


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FLYING DUKW — Colonel Frank Speir, Project Engineer of the Army’s Amphibious Warfare Program until the time of his death on 8 July 1956, one of the fathers of the US Army’s DUKW, thought that foils could increase the sea speed of this vehicle. He initiated a contract with Lycoming Division of AVCO and Miami Shipbuilding Corp to build a prototype. Adapting data from HALOBATES, including its autopilot, and using a Lycoming T-53 gas turbine for main propulsion, a flying DUKW was designed, and successful demonstration trials were conducted in Miami waters. Speeds in excess of 30 kt were demonstrated (compared with the 5 kt of the conventional DUKW).

FMCHY Food Machinery Corporation, which built some early hydrofoils
LVHX-1 and LVHX-2
Following successful trials of HALOBATES in the late 1950s, Lycoming Division of AVCO built LVHX-l based on the hydrofoil principals demonstrated in the earlier Flying DUKW design. LVHX-2, a competing version of the same craft, was built by Food Machinery Corp. Both craft were built to meet the same requirement with aluminum hulls 38 feet long and a capability of carrying a 5-ton payload at a speed of 35 knots. LVHX-1 had a submerged foil system, and LVHX-2 employed surface-piercing foils forward with a single submerged foil aft. During the trials program that followed, it finally became clear that the complexities and costs of such features a foil retraction and high speed gas turbine propulsion presented too great a penalty to pay for the increased water speed. As a result, further pursuit of hydrofoil landing craft was terminated.


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WHITE HAWK – ultra high speed hydrofoil designed and piloted by Frank and Stella Hanning-Lee in the early 1950s.
Click Here for more about this fascinating couple and their rocket-like vessel.




Hydrofoil Pioneer Helmut Kock moved to the USA from Chile in 1956 to participate in the construction of this 17-foot outboard hydrofoil sport boat in Miami. Florida. In the years to follow he was to design and built several hydrofoils, many of which remain in service around the world today. Click here to read a brief but fascinating autobiographical summary.

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